More Machines Added as Isolation Gown Production Ramps Up

On Saturday, we cut 56,000 squares for 22,000 masks for state employees who are performing essential duties. This was a collaboration between different state agencies in an effort to save medical grade masks for healthcare workers. We were thrilled to see AZ Governor Doug Ducey give us a shout out about this on Facebook today. With our 40-foot cutting table, skilled cutting technician, and our industrial knives, we are thrilled that we have the ability to cut in bulk. We’re still trying to raise funds for the automatic cutter that would allow us to cut a lot more.

We’re now working with two major healthcare systems who need a total of 390,000 reusable isolation gowns. Each hospital has their own specific design so we’ve designed and made different patterns for each one. Interestingly enough, when you make Level 3 gowns, each style needs to be labeled according to FDA requirements and then submitted to the FDA for approval.

Manufacturing Reusa Reusable Isolation Gowns

We’ve been working with a lean manufacturing consultant through the AZ Commerce Authority's Manufacturing Extension Partnership who has helped our Director of Design Development & Production Kate figure out the most efficient production line for making the isolation gowns. The line is U-shaped so that no one faces each other and the machines are safely six feet apart. FABRIC Co-Founder Sherri purchased 14 additional sewing machines so now we have set up two of these LEIN production lines. We’ve got 21 more sewing machines coming to set up a third and fourth. These new machines are set up in our events space on what used to be our runway and we hope to add power rails to power these machines this week.

Sewing Machines for Isolation Gowns on the Runway

Amelia, our Creative Director, has been interviewing and testing applicants all day. We are looking to hire 37 more sewing technicians and will probably add night shifts so that we can make as many isolation gowns as possible. We’ve also added many of our interns to our payroll as staff.

Gown Production Line

As I mentioned, the FDA/AAMI approved materials that we originally sourced was seized by the Canadian government so we found another source thanks to our 2019 Designer in Residence recipients Jessica and Jay McPhaul. These scarce fabrics are hard to find and when we do find them, the mills don’t keep enough in stock and they need time to make more. So we order what we can from each mill. We’ve been working with multiple mills and multiple fabrics. Just getting these fabrics shipped is also a challenge. In fact, the shipments were going to take a couple of weeks, so the hospitals we’re working with have collaborated to send the Arizona National Guard to pick them up!

AAMI Approved Fabric

Just paying for these fabrics and this equipment poses its own challenges. It’s expensive, but we can’t do this without it. Banks are not open and require special appointments to see someone in person. Online wire transfers are proving to be difficult as well. Sherri sat outside of the bank for over an hour the other day just to be able to send money for equipment.

We’re doing everything we can to make a dent in the PPE shortage, but going from being a no-minimum factory to filling orders for nearly 400,000 isolation gowns, is a huge task. Therefore, we’ve partnered with AZ Commerce Authority and AZ Manufacturing Extension Partnership to bring on additional manufacturing partners to increase the capacity.

Today we were interviewed by GoDaddy because they are doing a follow up story to the Icons Of Our Tribe feature they did on us last summer. This new feature will be part of a series called Open We Stand and will feature entrepreneurs who have pivoted during COVID-19. They said it will go live in a couple of weeks. We feel so blessed to have this kind of support to help us spread the word about what we are doing and the things we need in order to do it on a bigger scale.

Lastly, I'd like to thank Arizona Community Foundation for the recent grant awarded to Arizona Apparel Foundation toward these efforts.

Thank you all for reading and keeping up on all of this. It means a lot to have your support.